Time Warner Tests Not-Quite-Basic Cable

By  |  Friday, November 19, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Whether you blame cord-cutting or the economy, we can all agree that cable’s having a rough year. Now, Time Warner’s considering a smaller, cheaper bundle of cable channels.

The so-called “Time Warner Essentials” package will be tested in New York City and parts of Ohio, the Los Angeles Times reports. Priced at $50 per month, it’ll include roughly 50 channels, including all the broadcast networks and 12 of the top 20 Nielsen-rated cable networks. Subscribers will also be able to tack on premium channels like HBO and Showtime, and they can get but cannot get DVR service for an extra charge.

Unfortunately, Time Warner Essentials has some major blind spots. There’s no ESPN, and it’s not clear whether the package will include regional sports channels, like the Yankee-owned YES Network. CNN is included for live news, but there’s no Fox News or MSNBC.

Considering that live content is a major missing ingredient from cable alternatives like Netflix and Hulu,¬†I’d consider all those channels to be essential for keeping cable customers on board (personal feelings about cable news networks aside). But they are expensive — ESPN costs Time Warner $4 per subscriber, says the LA Times — and I doubt Time Warner wants to stack its budget price tier with its most popular channels, lest Essentials cannibalize bigger packages.

In any case, I’m pleased to see a cable company respond to subscriber losses with action, rather than a dismissive wave of the hand. This is an acknowledgement, however slight, that people are getting fed up with the exorbitant price of subscription television. There’s no definitive answer on whether people are dropping cable specifically for disruptive Web-based services like Boxee, Apple TV or Roku, but the disruption is happening either way, and it’s cable’s turn to respond.



10 Comments For This Post

  1. The_Heraclitus Says:

    They STILL don't get it. They need an a la carte pricing scheme.

  2. JaredNewman Says:

    That's not going to happen anytime soon, and not just because of cable companies. The networks like the status quo because everyone gets paid. If viewers got to pick some channels and exclude others, everyone would lose money.

    The only way this is going to change is if enough people drop cable in favor of alternatives that it's no longer worth locking people in to big packages. On a very small scale, that's what is happening here.

  3. John McCormick Says:

    No ESPN? Are you kidding me? Sign me up!

    ESPN is one of the channels that takes the most of my subscription fee for cable. I don't watch sports but I pay a lot of money (more than the channels I do watch get paid) so someone else can enjoy ESPN.

    I'm all for removing ESPN and other sports channels. Make them part of a separate add on package. Though I'm sure if we weren't all paying for it the rate will increase.

  4. craftwerks Says:

    i've been telling cable companies for 10 years… give me the choice of 10 basic cable channels of my choice for $20 bucks and i'm in. strange, they still don't want my money and would rather i find their shows online through the 'black market' for free….

  5. Esteban Says:

    ESPN costs over $4.00, and ESPN2 costs $2. All the other channels are 99 cents or less. That's why ESPN is not included, and that's why, as a non-sports-guy, I don't have cable.

  6. Big Al Says:

    In my case, lacking sports channels makes this package worthless to me. And going by the rights fees ESPN gets, non-sports watchers seem to be in the minority.

    As a sports watcher, much as I'd like to cut the cable, I can't. Not until there are alternative means of broadcast that don't include the current option of illicit and janky web streams. (And no, MLB.tv and the like aren't an option, because my local team would be blacked out)

    I agree ala carte is the way to go , but I honestly doubt we'll ever see it happen.

  7. Devin Says:

    I'm not sure I see the savings. I'm in NE Ohio and I pay $55.00 per month for a ton of channels. I have to pay $10.00 on top of that for DVR, but for an extra $5.00 per month I receive a lot more.

    I would like to cancel the service and use a Google TV, Roku, or Boxee – but they aren't where I need them to be at this point in time.

  8. enphones Says:

    There are a lot of channels being continuously taken away from the Time Warner app, which is why I am glad that I have DISH Network. Using the DISH Remote Access app and my 922 SlingLoaded receiver, I am able to stream live TV and recorded shows to my iPad when and where I want. The Time Warner app can only be used on a home network that is provided by Time Warner as well. That does not seem very flexible. The DISH Remote Access app lets me watch TV anywhere that I have a 3G or wifi connection. This comes in handy when I want to keep watching all of my favorite shows on the go. One other plus is that I can watch any channel that I subscribe to!

  9. Veer 4G Says:

    i've been telling cable companies for 10 years… give me the choice of 10 basic cable channels of my choice for $20 bucks and i'm in. strange, they still don't want my money and would rather i find their shows online through the 'black market' for free….

  10. gadget news today Says:

    Time Warner, in my experience, has the worst record of customer service- not the agents or reps individually, but TW is the only game in town for Internet and used to be for cable etc. The Direct tv and such is changing the market but TW always "talks" how important and valuable their customers are and then never fail to treat you to IVR systems that are infuriating; they have outsourced tons of jobs to Central America to save money and never fail to maintain high prives so you can see infomercials 40 percent of the time.